There has been much written and spoken, much consternation and disgust, questions and not many answers on the topic of the future of GSM alarm communication. One simple fact is true; it's growing at unprecedented rates. More and more companies are installing more and more systems using cellular every day. How long, will the product I install tomorrow, be working? When and how will I need to replace it? How did we get to where we are? And at the end of the day; should I expect a sunset or a nightmare?
History of the GSM Network (AT&T & T-Mobile)
1G (AMPS) was deployed in 1973, but the alarm industry did not make use of it until 1992 (using the control channel side), of course it was sunset in 2008. AMPS had a life of 35 years however the security industry only used it for the last 16.
2G (GSM) was deployed around 1990 and has an expected life of 25 years. 2.5G (Edge) was a software upgrade to the GSM and was deployed in 2002. Both GSM and Edge will be turned off at the same time, slowly tower by tower as economics and equipment repair necessitate. Although everyone has been in meetings with the carriers none of them can or will say when that will happen; conventional wisdom says the GSM network will be replaced in five to 10 years.
3G is something called HSPA or UMTS, it uses totally different hardware and was widely deployed in 2005. It has an expected life of 25 years.
4G is being deployed as two different technologies. AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile all using something called LTE that will be a 700 Mhz band product. Sprint is rolling out what they call 4G using a Wi-Max technology from Clearwire. It's expected that Sprint may move to LTE in the future.
Today's alarm hardware
Today we are selling 2G (GSM) modules because only in the last few months have 3G (HSPA) modules even become available. Smartphones drive the technology. All the hardware manufacturers focus on building handsets for the first two to four years of the deployment of a new carrier technology wanting to cash in on the handset market that only has a typical lifespan of 18 months. Once most of the profit is squeezed out of that space, they then design and begin to deploy modules for use in M2M or telemetry applications. That being the case, the 3G (HSPA) modules are just starting to become available. The issue is, that they are still cost prohibitive. Security manufacturers could use the 3G modules on cell communicators today. But they would cost three times the current price. That will not be the case in 12 to 18 months as volume increases and the module manufacturers re-pay their initial investment and the costs become reasonable. When that occurs panel manufacturers will be able to offer cellular products that operate on 3G and have a future life expectancy out towards years 2025 to 2030.
The key is to use a product that has a modular design. It is also important that the panel you use has a history of backward and forward compatibility with its own devices. Manufacturers who plan forced obsolescence into their product are not who you want to partner with going forward in this new world of communication changes. You should expect your panel partner to allow you to replace that communications module and continue with the existing installed products in a relatively seamless fashion. If your manufacturer-partner likes to plan in obsolescence, maybe it's time to revisit that choice.
As far as 4G (LTE) AT&T and Verizon have purchased large blocks of spectrum from the FCC. They will begin deploying the 4G networks later in 2011. With that we can expect to see security communicators available and affordable four to five years from now using LTE. Those modules will have a forward life expectancy to about year 2040.
CDMA Network (Verizon and Sprint)
Sprint has said publicly that they will maintain the 2G (1XRTT) and 3G (EVDO) network until at least 2020. Verizon has said it will maintain the 1XRTT for at least five years and EVDO for another 10.